As planters and tea traders discussed ‘specialty tea production’ during the second session of the recently-concluded India Tea Forum (ITF) in Siliguri, an expert from the Dooars raised questions and made proposals, one of them being auction of specialty tea at the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre (STAC).
“Why don’t we auction specialty tea in STAC? Can we do it for the promotion of tea trade and industry,” he said, while in reply, the convener of the ITF Ravi Agarwal had to admit that there was no production of such tea in this region in the present scenario.
“Where is specialty tea production? There is no specific specialty tea production in the hinterland, mainly the Terai and the Dooars,” Mr Agarwal said, adding, “Sorry to say that I took initiatives for such tea auction here, but failed…”
“Yes, a decision was taken to organise a seminar on it but it was never organised,” an official associated with the STAC, meanwhile, said.
STAC started functioning in Siliguri 1976, and at its initial stages, according to records, 16 million kg tea, mainly CTC, used to be auctioned in a year.
There is a long history that shows an increase in the amount of tea auctioned every year. After the 90s, over 90 million kg tea was auctioned, while in 2014 more than 100 million kg tea was auctioned from the STAC. At present, the amount is 132 to 135 million kg a year, it is said.
Another tea auction centre was set up in Jalpaiguri, but it is virtually non-functional at a time when the Tea Board has introduced a pan-India e-auction system and buyers can easily procure tea as per their requirements there.
“The Siliguri Tea Auction Centre is functioning basically for the domestic market and the amount of tea auctioned there is higher than an auction centre in Kolkata. But specialty tea auction is being done traditionally from a market in Kolkata and a section of buyers procure such tea from that city. A small quantity of specialty tea may be auctioned at the Guwahati auction centre,” said STAC secretary Pankaj Das.
“Quality Darjeeling (Hills) tea is exported directly even to foreign countries. Presently, more than 50 per cent of Darjeeling tea is exported directly. And the remaining 3 to 4 million kg is auctioned through Kolkata,” Mr Das added.
Not only North Bengal, but Assam too depends on the auction centre in Kolkata, besides its auction centre in Guwahati. But the STAC is still lagging behind despite the fact that it has Darjeeling tea.
“Siliguri is lagging only because we are not offering Darjeeling…” an observer says.